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A Survivor's Story: I felt my feet come off the ground
Apr 19, 2006 12:00 am
April 13, 2006 Nineteen-year-old Parker Minor's voice quivered only slightly Wednesday as he sifted through a stack of photographs captured last week, mere moments after a deadly tornado ripped across Sumner County.
"I was in the debris cloud," he said, still speaking with an air of disbelief. "All I could do was hope and pray nothing hit me."
The Lebanon teenager's story is one very few live to tell and one he says will forever remain etched in his mind.
Minor left his home Friday afternoon and headed toward Gallatin to pick up his girlfriend's car before continuing to Nashville. He had seen the day's television weather reports, and knew massive "super cell" thunderstorms were sweeping across the Volunteer State.
And although the skies became increasingly darker as he traveled northward on Highway 109, Minor – a Lebanon High School graduate and Volunteer State Community College student – had no idea an F3 tornado was already making its way into Gallatin.
"From the radar pictures I'd seen, it didn't look that bad," he said, recalling the report. "But, I didn't know at the time that the weather radar on the lake had been taken out. So … the pictures I saw weren't current."
As he neared Gallatin's city limits, Minor noticed traffic was at a standstill. Sitting motionless in the miles-long traffic snarl along Hwy. 109, he first laid eyes on the April 7 twister that ultimately claimed the lives of nine people in Sumner County.
The roads were far too congested to turn back, and after maneuvering through the traffic jam, Minor managed to make his way to the intersection of Hwy. 109 and Airport Road.
The tornado was less than a mile away when he realized his silver Honda Civic was directly in its path.
"I started to panic as the massive tornado gained in my rear window … Before I knew it, the tornado was right behind me," Minor would later recall in a written account of his ordeal (see page 4).
He managed to make it to Airport Road and estimated he was "going almost 80 or 90" miles per hour when he realized any effort to outrun the tornado would be foolhardy.
His initial reaction was to attempt to flee to the nearby Lee Electric building, but the combination of speed and wet roads made such a maneuver impossible. His brakes "locked up," and the two-door coupe careened over a curb and into a ditch near the entrance of the Woodvale subdivision.
The tornado was quickly gaining ground.
"I tried to run inside the nearest house, but the wind – it was just unreal. I could hardly walk and didn't even make it half way across the yard," he said, noting his only option was to take cover among three medium-sized trees.
"The only thing I could do was just pin myself between those trees. I don't know how I hung on. The wind was so strong … I felt my feet come off of the ground," said Minor, whose arms still bore several deep, red abrasions Wednesday as evidence of the "death grip" with which he clung to the tree. "It went so fast. It's hard to remember anything. I did hear all sorts of stuff crumbling around me."
After the twister had passed, Minor hastily scanned his surroundings.
The Lee Electric building, where he had initially sought refuge, was now a pile of rubble less than 50 yards away. Two men inside, Minor would later learn, died in the storm.
Moving carefully to avoid countless electrical lines downed in the tornado, he made his way back to Airport Road and flagged down a passing motorist who drove him to his original destination.
Minor noted the harrowing experience has invaded his dreams in the days since the tornado, adding he recently leapt from his bed at the sound of a passing train near his home off Maple Hill Road.
"The pictures are nothing if you go down there," he said, still scanning images of the devastation. "It's given me a whole new perspective on life."
Staff Writer Brian Harville can be reached at 444-3952 ext. 16 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.